According to a new paper published in “Nature” this month, under the “business as usual” scenario (no greenhouse gas regulation, IPCC), the average air temperature of most places on earth will be hotter than any recorded temperature at that location from 1860-2006 (link to the paper).
This means that the average temperature will be greater than the maximum temperature that we are accustomed to seeing at any particular location. Think about that. Here in Chapel Hill, the annual average temperature sits somewhere around 60 degrees F (annual average low is 50 degrees F, annual average high is 70 degrees F, weather.com). The highest recorded temperature average for a month is 106 degrees F, and for a year it is around 95 degrees F (weather.com). So, imagine a world in which the daily high temperature in North Carolina averages 95 degrees F, not just in the summer months, but over an entire year! Soon you will not have to. According to this study, if we continue to follow the “business as usual” scenario (IPCC), we will live in that world by 2060. That means we would likely average well over 100 degrees F for several months. Seasonality would be almost completely lost. Think of the effects this would have on terrestrial ecosystems. It would likely be catastrophic to biodiversity, barring time to acclimate.
This is not a new problem. Those of us in the sciences understand the dangers of climate change. However, somehow, in spite of all of the data we have generated, there are those who refuse to accept the reality that is climate change. The climate is changing, and humans are inducing the bulk of this change through the emission of greenhouse gasses. When I say that I don’t just mean CO2 from driving cars. We are talking about methane from mining and agriculture, nitrous oxide from various human activities, and CO2 from industry and energy production. Back when I taught introductory earth science/geology to undergrads, this was a paragraph I made sure to explain. In fact, we did two labs looking at climate data and scenarios. This problem is likely the biggest one facing our generation, and like it or not, we will need to make decisions about it, because the world will change for the worse while we are still alive if we do not.
It should be pointed out that “business as usual” is one of the worst case scenarios laid down by the IPCC. It means that we continue to have no regulations on emissions and essential ignore the problem of climate change. It is unlikely that this will occur, due to the volume of data we have as well as the clear physical evidence that we see. However, when global, national, and local politics get involved, it is hard to have a clear stance on the matter. Science is aware of all of these issues and we are making them known, but policy in many parts of the world is not up to par yet (Exhibit A). As a scientist and informed citizen, it is great to see a paper like this make it to a high impact journal like “Nature.” Hopefully it will be widely read and reported on (see an article on this paper that was published in the NYT, here). The authors of this paper were actually part of a graduate level course at The University of Hawaii at Manoa. This interdisciplinary group of students was able to take existing climate data and put it in a new perspective. The way it is presented in this paper, we can see the effects of global climate change on particular areas of the globe. This allows a reader to hone in on a particular area of interest (say, where they live), and see how much the temperature will change, and when that change may occur. This is a great and novel approach, and one that I expect to resonate with the general public. I found this quote particularly powerful: “Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced. What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”—Dr. Camilo Mora, PI (via NYT).
***Disclaimer: Not all climate science is doom and gloom. The new IPCC report finds that global temperature increase has actually leveled off some over the past 15 years. The report can be found here:
A related NYT article is here.
“Let science dictate the facts” – Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?